Grand Rapids grand opening: Inside The 1530

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former lumber yard on Grand Rapids’ southeast side is the city’s newest event venue.

The team behind The 1530 celebrated its grand opening Thursday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“I’ve had so many folks drive by and stop in and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know this existed,” said Amanda Jones, events director for The 1530. “It’s one of those things that you don’t typically see on the southeast side.”

The 1530 is the latest development by Justin and Nathan Beene, who grew up on the southeast side. The brothers lead the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation, which is also housed at 1530 Madison Ave. SE.

“Our mom is white, our dad is Black and we always saw this need for how to create racial unity from a socioeconomic status. And (being) raised in a poor neighborhood, but also having the privilege of going to private schools … we always lived in these two worlds,” said Justin Beene, founder of the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation.

He said a Forbes article several years ago naming Grand Rapids the second worst place for African Americans in terms of economics was “the nudge” they needed to act.

“So out of that came this place of creating relationships… between nonprofits and for-profits and community organizations to all kind of live into a collective vision in which they each kept their own organizational structure, but lived into this larger 10-year vision that we call the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation,” Justin Beene said.

Three nonprofit organizations are at the core of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation: the Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP, Grand Rapids Nehemiah Project and Bethany Christian Services. They help support the center’s three social businesses: Building Bridges Professional Services, Rising Grinds Events & Catering and the newest venture, The 1530 venue.

The brothers say all three social businesses serve as tools to solve social and economic inequalities, moving beyond the social and spiritual methods people typically stick to.

“The natural way that people move out of poverty is that they get a job. They create wealth, they buy a house,” Justin Beene said. “We have to move away from saying, ‘How do we alleviate poverty or make poverty more tolerable?’ And instead we have to ask the question, ‘How do you create wealth? And how do you unashamedly say, ‘We need to create more opportunities for wealth creation in the Black and brown communities.’”

The brothers say they have measured the programs’ social return on investment each year for the past five years and on average, for every dollar invested, there is a $3 cost savings to society.

Building Bridges is focused on hiring and mentoring community members in landscaping and construction, with profit sharing available to everyone whose been there for more than six months.

Rising Grinds is meant to be a “space where the millionaire and the marginalized can come together over a great cup of coffee and have a transformational conversation,” according to Nathan Beene, integrator or the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation.

And The 1530?

“We say really for that, the vision is to be the place for urban transformation, celebration and inspiration,” Nathan Beene said.

INSIDE THE 1530

Stepping into The 1530, you can immediately hear and smell the building’s history as a lumber yard. The pillars and floors are original wood– approximately 120 years old, according to Justin Beene.

Building renovations started about three years ago with windows and the big wooden beams that frame the front entrance, replacing the original wooden beams that burned in a fire. The first set of beams were used for railroad log transfers.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the replacement wood beams over the entrance to The 1530 venue, located at 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

Nathan Beene says about 60% of the work was done by students and staff on the Building Bridges team and in the youth build program.

“To see people take pride in it as they come through has been really encouraging,” Nathan Beene said.

The teams have replaced windows, refinished floors, added walls, video projectors, a sound system and a garage door that rolls open to reveal an outdoor deck that can seat about 75 people, in addition to the approximately 320-person capacity inside.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the outdoor deck at The 1530 venue, located at 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

The 1530 features a new 2,100-square-foot LEED-certified kitchen with a walk-in freezer and cooler. The space will serve as a teaching kitchen and incubator kitchen primarily for minority-owned food entrepreneurs when it’s not being used for events.

“Really the value is that we’ll give you a marketplace because we have all these customers coming in. We’ll say, ‘Hey, we have someone who makes an incredible pie. We really want to feature that at an event.’ So (we’re) really working to help those entrepreneurs also get access to business,” Justin Beene explained.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the colored brick silhouette of the Grand Rapids skyline on the green rooftop deck at The 1530 in Grand Rapids.)

Parking is free and everything inside the 1530 is accessible for people with disabilities. There’s even a wheelchair-accessible elevator leading to Justin Beene’s favorite feature: a green rooftop deck with colored bricks that mimic the city skyline.

He says it’s something they’ve wanted for six years but were told wouldn’t happen.

“There’s something about getting our community up at that space and being on a rooftop deck, a green roof and overlooking your city from that vantage point, that many people never get that kind of privilege… Being on a green roof is kind of something for people who have resources. And there’s definitely not any in our neighborhood — there’s no green rooftop deck,” Justin Beene said. “It shows what I think entrepreneurship innovation and grit can do.”

(Justin Beene looks out at the city of Grand Rapids from atop the green roof deck at The 1530 on 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

For Nathan Beene, the river bar built by the center’s construction team holds the most charm.

Over the next few months, they plan to repurpose the storage containers behind the building into a wine and coffee bar licensed third party vendors can also use.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the outdoor area at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, at 1530 Madison Ave. SE. The group plans to convert the shipping container into a coffee and wine bar.)

Jones says about $1 million from donors, fundraisers and grants was invested into the space.

“All of the remodeling, all of the new features, a lot of those are because of our donors believing that the space is going to be something that we can give back to our community,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful space and you’re going to have an incredible experience. But in addition to that, you’re actually going to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself,” Justin Beene said.

HELPING THE COMMUNITY HEAL

Before the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation and its business partners first leased and moved into the lower level of 1530 Madison Ave. SE a few years ago, the building walls and floors told a different story.

“(We) would drive by this building… as well as the building across the street and just, they had been abandoned and kind of sitting and wasting. And so how do you make something that has been left behind beautiful? How do you make this a sign of hope, of opportunity in our city?” Justin Beene asked.

The center launched a $5 million campaign to buy and renovate the building, located not far from where the Beene brothers used to play basketball and attend church.

“This is where our roots are, and I think it made sense for us as this, the Third Ward, the 49507 community… has been one of the least invested in communities in our city and is about 80% African American,” Justin Beene said.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the Cottage Grove lounge area inside 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids, which can also be rented for events.)

But then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Investors took a wait-and-see approach. The center laid off 30 people from its landscaping and construction business and temporarily closed its coffee shop to survive until federal funding and giving picked up.

“We… quickly realized that we were taking on this big challenge where in-person events weren’t a thing. And so it kind of got us wondering what we were going to do with this large space that we’ve been investing in for so many years. Thankfully we started doing virtual events that moved into hybrid events. And now that we’re back to full-time, in-person events, we are seeing a boom in people wanting to get here, get in the space and gather with one another again in person,” Jones said.

The center’s mission drew more support and attention in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“I think a lot of people kind of said, ‘Well, who’s building relationships across sectors? Who is bringing together people across races and trying to create… a city that’s flourishing, that’s healed or that’s helping the healing process?’” Justin Beene said.

Then, earlier this month, the community was dealt another blow when a Grand Rapids police officer shot and killed 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya.

“It’s a sad sentiment in our city. I mean, in this neighborhood it didn’t happen, but… a few blocks from here. So it’s hard to ask, have things gotten better when you had the most kind of tragic of situations maybe in the history of our city?” Justin Beene said.

“One of our values here is actualizing an optimistic vision where we say even in the midst of chaos, people need solutions. And so we do think about solutions while also acknowledging, the deep pain and history specifically for people of color in this city and in this community and I would say even in our own experiences and our own lives. And so there’s a process of healing that has to happen for our community, for our city, across the country. Far too often, we do skip that process and begin moving towards solutions,” he added.

Last week, The 1530 hosted a community roundtable event with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and community members regarding Lyoya’s death.

“I think having spaces where we can have those real conversations and those relationships, going back to the venue, is critical for our city to move forward,” Nathan Beene said.

The 1530 will be available by reservation Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. to midnight on weekends. The Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation plans to offer some discounts for people who live in the 49507 zip code. Jones says event rates will range from $75 per hour up to a $5,000 package. For more information, email events@the1530events.com

New Grand Rapids event venue, The 1530, hosting grand opening

GRCCT

Justin Beene, founder of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, speaks at The 1530 event venue inside the Center for Community Transformation building, 1530 Madison Ave. SE. (Photo provided by the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation)Dave Thompson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A new event venue has opened in Grand Rapids’ Southeast Side.

The Center for Community Transformation, 1530 Madison Ave. SE, is hosting a grand opening for its newly renovated event space, known as The 1530, on Thursday, April 28 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

With three separate areas, including a ballroom, rooftop garden and loft, The 1530 can host a variety of events, including weddings, health and education resource events, graduation open houses, baby showers and parties, said Amanda Jones, director of events for the space.

She said The 1530 is one of few event venues serving the Madison Square neighborhood and the surrounding Southeast Side.

“Oftentimes, the Southeast Side gets overlooked when trying to place these types of spaces,” Jones said. “It was important to us to place an event space that’s been beautified, that has a rooftop deck and garden, that can host 300 people.”

The Center for Community Transformation was created in 2015 in partnership with nonprofits, businesses, churches, and others. The space hosts offices for Bethany Christian Services, NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids, Building Bridges, Grand Rapids Nehemiah Project, and more.

The center provides educational services, and resources for residents looking for jobs and housing. Rising Grinds Café is also part of the Center for Community Transformation.

Jones said renovations to open the event venue cost about $1.5 million.

They included the addition of a commercial kitchen, new audio and visual equipment, a bar, as well as a rooftop garden and deck. The 1530′s ballroom sports exposed wooden beams, hardwood floors and brick walls.

We’re a space where “folks can host those parties, can gather, can be in the community aside from having to go downtown, or to the Northeast Side to have a space that looks very similar to ours,” Jones said.

A Recipe to Build Accessible Space for Food Businesses in a Redlined Neighborhood

When Jen Faigel finally held that $2.5 million check for a loan from the City of Boston in her hands, it symbolized so much more to her than its face value. “It felt shocking,” Faigel says. “I had somebody on my team pick it up at city hall because we didn’t want it to get stuck in the mail. And we wanted to get it as quickly as we could into our bank account. It’s signed by the current mayor, Mayor Michelle Wu.”

First and foremost, it represented the vision and aspirations of the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods that surround CommonWealth Kitchen where Faigel works as executive director. The nonprofit took ownership of the property, a former meat processing plant, in February at a price tag of $7 million, paid for in part with that check.

More than half of Boston’s Black residents live in Dorchester and Roxbury — a legacy of historic racial segregation and ongoing redlining. Around a decade ago, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation acquired the property from a local family-owned meat processing company. The initial plan was to convert the plant into affordable housing. But the neighbors said that they actually needed jobs and economic development. So Dorchester Bay brought in CommonWealth Kitchen as the anchor tenant.

The check also represented validation for a model of community economic development that’s emerged over the past decade or so. Like the recipes the Kitchen’s staff follow when mass-producing sauces, juices and other products, the recipe for financing the re-development of this former hot dog plant is theoretically possible for others to emulate, though maybe with slightly different ingredients.

That $2.5 million check also represented a nexus of relationships across Boston. As a former affordable housing developer, Faigel’s relationships go back decades with staff at Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, which underwrote the $2.5 million loan. It’s a deferred loan, meaning CommonWealth Kitchen doesn’t have to make any payments until the loan matures in 10 years, at which point the city may forgive all or part of what’s owed.

CommonWealth Kitchen members have also built relationships with area universities and hospitals, and the businesses it has incubated now supply various products to those universities. “We’ve gotten to where we are in part from reputation, doing good work, being consistent and telling our story,” Faigel says. With 50 companies [incubated so far], we’re a story factory. You can gain a reputation almost like too big too fail; you can be too important to let fester.”

As covered previously by Next City, CommonWealth Kitchen is a hybrid organization, combining a food business incubator, shared commercial kitchen space and a co-packing facility that now employs 16 people on a living wage or higher — currently $15.87 per hour for Boston. When it moved into the former hot dog plant in 2014, no one knew if such a model could succeed. There weren’t any precedents across the country that combined all these components.

There was talk back in 2013 of CommonWealth Kitchen someday acquiring the property, but that could not happen for at least seven years. That’s because a large piece of the financing for Dorchester Bay to acquire and rehab the property came from the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, which requires that the ownership structure of a building stay in place for at least seven years after the transaction closes — which technically happened when Dorchester Bay acquired the property in 2013.

In 2020, Dorchester Bay went through the process of “unwinding” the New Markets Tax Credit ownership structure, clearing the way to begin talking seriously about selling the building to CommonWealth Kitchen.

“This sale is part of the success story,” says Beth O’Donnell, director of real estate at Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation. “If Dorchester Bay wants to build equity in the community, part of that equity is community ownership over the real estate.”

A view of the mural across the street from CommonWealth Kitchen. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Others across the country have been finding ways to use the New Markets Tax Credit program with similar results in mind.

In San Francisco, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust used New Markets Tax Credits to renovate two buildings it plans to sell to the community-based arts organizations that are currently leasing the spaces. It’s already inspiring copycats, including Seattle’s Cultural Space Agency.

In New York City, nonprofit consultancy Hester Street Collaborative has taken a different approach by helping grassroots organizations like Make The Road New York navigate the complex New Markets Tax Credit program to acquire and build its new permanent home in Queens without having to work with a real estate developer. However, critics point out the high cost of the necessary legal, accounting and consulting work for New Markets Tax Credit deals.

Another quirk is the annual limitation – nationwide, Congress has authorized just $5 billion a year for the New Markets Tax Credits program. There’s almost always more demand for the financing than there is to go around, meaning these kinds of economic development projects chronically need to layer in more financing sources on top of this already complicated financing source.

In addition to the New Markets Tax Credit Financing, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation got a low-cost, long-term $3.2 million loan via the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 108 loan guarantee program.

The Section 108 program’s advantages include being very flexible and low cost since the borrowing originates directly from the department, and borrowing terms are up to 20 years. The program’s main disadvantage is that few people know about it.

“My experience with Section 108 is that cities and counties that have figured it out, use it,” says Brett Theodos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “But it remains a well-kept secret within the federal government.”

Section 108 allows states or eligible local governments to use the cash flow from annual Community Development Block Grants as collateral for the loans. The loan proceeds can go out to projects as grants and the borrowing government can pay back the loans using block grant funds or other funds over time, or it can re-lend those funds to eligible projects or businesses, and the repayments for those loans get funneled to repay the original Section 108 loan.

“Local governments can use Section 108 to deploy capital to riskier projects,” Theodos says. “But you are to some degree jeopardizing your future Community Development Block Grant spending by using it, so you want to be wise with it.”

Section 108 projects remain well below their potential capacity. All 50 states plus around 1,250 city or county governments are eligible for Section 108 loans. Under Section 108, HUD allows each state or eligible local government to borrow up to five times what they each receive annually from the Community Development Block Grant Program, minus any active Section 108 loans from previous years.

Altogether, according to HUD records, eligible units of government were eligible to borrow up to $10.1 billion via the Section 108 program in 2021. How much did they actually borrow? $80.6 million, according to HUD’s Section 108 records.

That’s no outlier because of pandemic conditions. From 2015 to 2019, according to HUD records, eligible units of government only borrowed an average of $73 million a year in Section 108 loans.

Even in Boston, usage of the program is very rare.

“I’ve been involved in other projects around Boston that have struggled to attract debt capital for affordable commercial space,” says O’Donnell at Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation. “When it’s come up to the city, the answer has almost always been no. It doesn’t seem like the city has Section 108 on its fingertips.”

But the Section 108 funding was crucial for CommonWealth Kitchen because of its favorable terms and flexibility.

Serving as the intermediary for the $3.2 million Section 108 loan, the city was able to roll over the outstanding debt directly to CommonWealth Kitchen as part of the $7 million acquisition. In other words, Dorchester Bay still owed 100% of the principal as of February this year, but instead of making Dorchester Bay repay it with cash obtained from the sale, the city simply transferred the debt from Dorchester Bay to CommonWealth Kitchen.

“It’s probably the best we could realistically do,” Theodos at the Urban Institute says. “It’s not ideal because a high-capacity place like Boston is able to put this together but smaller cities, rural places, even other disinvested highly urbanized places are just not able to navigate these processes.”

The bottom line is that CommonWealth Kitchen went from paying $22,000 a month in rent at the start of 2022 to zero in debt servicing costs for one year, then $12,000 in total monthly debt payments after that.

That’s a recipe for financing the re-purposing of former manufacturing space according to the vision and dreams of a historically redlined community around it. Not perfect, but it’s a recipe nonetheless.

Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation isn’t profiting from the sale — it’s getting some cash and taking some debt off its balance sheet. However, it ultimately put millions more into the building than it’s getting back in those terms.

But that may be okay. Dorchester Bay wasn’t expecting to profit financially from the transaction. Over time, the economic benefits to the surrounding community are likely to exceed the millions that Dorchester Bay put into the property. Those benefits are hard to measure or fully capture, but with CommonWealth Kitchen taking ownership of the property and gaining momentum with its intentional model, it’s more likely than ever that Dorchester Bay’s calculation will work out as expected if it hasn’t already.

Others don’t have to follow this same exact pathway. It’s not necessarily possible everywhere. But as for the idea that economic development doesn’t have to depend on developers extracting profits, there’s a victory here using some ingredients that could be available elsewhere.

“The opportunities aren’t that frequent to do something like this,” O’Donnell says. “In part, it’s because of the landscape of tools to finance it, but also compounded in Boston by the [lack] of land and other assets. In 90% of cases, we’re competing with private developers for land and site control. It makes it even more important when you do get these opportunities, you maximize their impact.”

This article is part of The Bottom Line, a series exploring scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital. Click here to subscribe to our Bottom Line newsletter. The Bottom Line is made possible with support from Citi.

NAACP Grand Rapids Chamber Meeting

NAACP Grand Rapids Chapter membership meeting is

open to anyone who would like to attend every 3rd Tuesday at 7:15pm.

The link to join is  https://zoom.us/j/99725997122

Can You Imagine A Playground? – A Just City

Can you imagine a city that is just? A city where everyone – regardless of background, birth family, race, or creed – receives what they need to fully thrive as human beings…

Justin Beene, President of the Leadership Foundation of Grand Rapids, Center for Community Transformation (GRCCT), joins us to explore the shape of God’s justice in his city.  Dr. Beene describes how GRCCT is seeking to extend opportunity in a city ranked amongst the worst economically for African-Americans.

To listen to the full conversation, click on the link below:

ArtPrize Beyond Downtown: GRCCT an ArtPrize Venue

This year, Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation was selected as an ArtPrize Venue. Located in the 49507, Southeast neighborhood, we were able to curate and invite over 1,000 guest to visit and tour our space. We were able to house over 23 different art pieces, varying from social justice to colorful abstract pieces, that encapsulated the diversity of our community. Two artists had winning pieces from our space which we are excited to share:

    • The Jurors vote for Best 2-D piece (Aging Out)
    • Runner up for Jurors vote for Best Installation piece (Ile Itaja – Shoppinglist)
    • Contemporary Black Art Award for his piece called “Ile Itaja – Shoppinglist.”

From food, to art, community markets, rap battles and Sundays with the West Michigan Jazz Society, GRCCT hosted over 10 open events during ArtPrize. That’s right, first time ever, you did not have to be directly downtown to engage in this years’ artwork and city-wide art competition. The Grand Rapids center for Community Transformation serves as a hub for 5 different organizations that call Grand Rapids home. Hundreds of youth and community members walk through our space each year looking to gain access to housing support, education opportunities, and work placement skills.

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